Las Vegas, widely known as one of the world’s entertainment capitals, is stretching even its own expectations for the next three months.
On Nov. 19, Vegas will host the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, a Formula 1 race that promises to be one of the biggest and boldest events in the sport’s long history.
Less than three months later, on Feb. 11, the Super Bowl, acknowledged as the No. 1 sports event in the country, is scheduled at Allegiant Stadium in Vegas.
The city, with a long history of staging major sports events, will be overwhelmed during these two weeks with record crowds expected to jam the city’s hotels, casinos and tourist attractions.
Formula 1 will test Vegas’ new landscape—on a street circuit that includes a section of the famous Las Vegas Strip. The race is scheduled for a 1 a.m. (ET) start Nov. 19. The Vegas Strip area has taken on a new look, with a four-level F1 paddock building, which includes garages and fan suites, in the final days of construction at the corner of Harmon Avenue and Koval Lane.
Racing under the Vegas neon will put F1’s global show in a new light. And the race is expected to become of the series’ most important stops.
Virtually every F1 race is an event. This one could be THE EVENT.
“If you look at the one event that stands out, it’s Monaco,” said Nate Saunders of ESPN. “It’s the one that people probably think of. It has the venue and the prestige. I think F1 is looking to Vegas to maybe not surpass or replace but to have another stand-alone event of similar ilk—almost a modern-day Monaco Grand Prix.
“In terms of championship points and relevance to the season, it’s exactly the same as every other race, but, in terms of what it means to F1, I think it is much bigger. That’s the way it’s being positioned.”
The numbers agree. Tickets for the race are being offered on various resale websites for more than $1,000 (though there appears to be a last-second price war going on in attempt to sell out the race). Rooms at mid-range hotels off the Strip are priced between $500 and $1,000 per night—many with 3-to-5 night minimums. The Waldorf Astoria will house you for $1,666 per night. A three-day “package” at the Mirage hotel-casino includes a room and race tickets for about $13,000.
The race won’t be F1’s first visit to Sin City. Grand Prix drivers raced on a temporary course in the parking lot of Caesars Palace in 1981 and 1982. This year’s race will be over a 3.8-mile circuit on the streets of the city, with drivers flashing by various Vegas landmarks and iconic hotels.
“It’s awesome to see the type of enthusiasm I’ve seen about the Vegas race,” said retired driver Mario Andretti, who drove in the 1981 and ’82 events. “It’s wonderful to see all that. Las Vegas can provide everything that people are looking for. It’s definitely going to be an event to remember.
“The difference between now and then (the earlier races) is that you have a long-term commitment and not just with an entity like Caesars Palace. You have the whole city behind it. Look at all the investment they’re putting in. It’s something to totally rejoice about if you’re a Formula One fan.”
The agreement between the city and F1 calls for a November race on the Strip for the next 10 years. The novelty aspect of the first event is expected to propel interest, fan numbers and television ratings, but what about the long-term future?
“That’s going to be the challenge for Las Vegas,” said Saunders. “It’s on one of the most famous streets in the world, but ultimately what people come back to is the race itself. There have been some great races at COTA (in Austin, Texas), and it’s a place fans love going to. Vegas won’t struggle with the attractions of the city, but it will take a few years to know how well it’s all going.
“One fascinating element to Vegas is that you have a whole city where the economy is based on hotels. That relationship will be important—keeping the local businesses happy.”